By Mary Revesai
The trouble with defending the indefensible is that sooner or later the apologist runs out of arguments to peddle and ends up advancing points that vindicate the position of those who see things from the opposite side of the fence.
This is what appears to have happened to Zambian president, Michael Sata, a vocal and consistent apologist for the regime of President Robert Mugabe, a number of whose key figures and supporters have had targeted sanctions imposed against them.
These measures were imposed by the international community for alleged human rights abuses and other governance deficits such as the breakdown of the rule of law, the muzzling of the media, the rigging of elections, the crushing of dissent, state sponsored political violence, harassment of political opponents and many others.
Sata and others who think like him would have the world believe that the ills cited above and many more which have plagued this once prosperous country for more than a decade, have been caused by the travel bans, asset freezes and other restrictions imposed on President Mugabe and his inner circle.
Labouring under deliberate chronological confusion, these critics of the targeted sanctions seem to forget what came first between the abuses and the sanctions. The embargoes were imposed in a bid to get the Zanu PF administration to address abuses of power and democratic shortcomings which were already in existence.
The ruling elites had a choice to make with regards to how to react to the measures imposed by the United States, the European Union and their allies.
They could have regarded the restrictions as a moral prodding and an opportunity to change course and introduce political reforms in the national interest. They could have taken acue from even the\most brutal military dictatorships such as the one in Myanmar (formerly Burma).
Here, sanctions have had the positive impact of causing the military junta to introspect and make a U-turn by agreeing to introduce political reforms, beginning with the release of key opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.
Regrettably, targeted sanctions have had the opposite impact in Zimbabwe. They have been regarded as an affront to the egos and pride of individuals within the ruling establishment.
This has resulted in the hardening of hearts and attitudes reflected in an aimlessly destructive and irrational intransigence designed to teach the West a lesson.
This brinkmanship has persisted even after the Zanu PF arm of the coalition government was afforded a face-saving opportunity to accept the implementation of reforms under the Global Political Agreement.
The political machinations and delaying tactics this party has resorted to over the past three years of the existence of the coalition government cannot leave anyone in any doubt about its real agenda.
Ironically, these realities are borne out by recent remarks the Zambian leader has made about President Mugabe being “overfed and over-nourished.”
He was quoted by the Zambian press about a week ago railing against the West for imposing sanctions which he said President Mugabe and his supporters remained insulated from.
Speaking to American investors in New York, the Zambian head of state said ; “Today you have sanctions against Mugabe but the sanctions are not affecting Mugabe… You saw him at the United Nations, he is over-nourished and Mugabe whom you are trying to target is here but his people cannot afford a meal a day.”
That is precisely the point and the heart of the matter.
While trying to sanitise and gloss over the injustices being visited upon the people of Zimbabwe, Sata unintentionally hit the nail on the head.
Even he must agree that there is something terribly wrong with a political order in which the leaders of a country are detached from the people they govern and are quite happy to arrogate to themselves the right to exclusive access to national resources and wealth to the detriment of the populace.
Sanctions or no sanctions, it is politically abusive, corrupt, tyrannical and unacceptable for national leaders to monopolise the economic means to enable themselves to lead opulent lifestyles and become obscenely rich while depriving and impoverishing the rest of the population.
While the rest of Zimbabweans struggle to survive in all departments of normal modern existence, the ruling elites can afford to send their children to expensive foreign universities and travel to other countries for medical treatment.
Why does the Zambian head of state have nothing to say about this?
Sata gloats about President Mugabe’s cleverness in insulating himself and his inner circle from economic hardships while the rest of the people suffer, without questioning whether this is a desirable form of political or diplomatic astuteness.
“We are very close to Zimbabwe because Zimbabwe and ourselves are Siamese twins…If we try to isolate Zimbabwe we are doing that at our own peril,” Sata was quoted as saying.
Clearly, in this attempt to shed crocodile tears over the situation in Zimbabwe, the Zambian president only has the political survival of his counterpart in mind. After, all, he might one day need to resort to the same dictatorial approach.
If he was genuinely concerned about the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans he would be urging President Mugabe to put the welfare and aspirations of his people ahead of his obsessive desire to vanquish the West.
The fact that this leadership can maintain a vast patronage system to cater for cronies and the politically influential and well-connected proves that there is enough to go round to afford all Zimbabweans a decent way of living.
The greed and selfishness being displayed has nothing to do with the targeted sanctions that are now being blamed for all the ills that self-interested political figures have inflicted on the country.